His next release is more than a month away but Nikhil Advani’s excitement about D-Day is almost palpable. While the gritty cross-border terrorism film is a departure from anything Nikhil has directed, the 42-year-old, who debuted with Kal Ho Na Ho, insists this is a genre most true to him.
The idea for D-Day: On May 2, 2011, I was in my car when I heard the news that American Seals had captured Osama bin Laden. My driver turned around and said if the Americans can capture Osama, why can’t we? Indians on different social networks were asking the same question. That’s when I started reading about RAW agents. Anurag Kashyap took a look at the final draft of the script and suggested that I speak with Irrfan for the film. Irrfan’s first question to Anurag was whether I’d be able to make a film like this, considering I had made Kal Ho Na Ho (laughs). Irrfan said it was a no-brainer for him to do this film because it gave him a chance to fullfil the fantasy of 1.2 billion Indians.
Rishi Kapoor is Most Wanted: Well, Rishi Kapoor is playing the most wanted fugitive of India. We haven’t named him but I have left enough triggers and clues for people to figure out who he is. In Zero Dark Thirty, you don’t see Osama. So, I didn’t feel the need to give this character a name.
Directing Rishi: All it took was one conversation to convince Rishiji about the role. When I told him about the role, he asked, “What dates do you want?” To my advantage, Rishi Kapoor and I are very, very close. Apart from the fact that we worked together on Patiala House, I really enjoy his company and his stories. I really enjoy hearing him talk about his father Raj Kapoor, who I think was India’s finest filmmaker.
Researching D-Day: Thank God for the Internet. (laughs) We wanted to keep the film as real, gritty and hard-hitting as possible. So we brought in two former chiefs of RAW. When they read the script, they said that if this fugitive has to be brought back to India, this is the only way of doing it. They were quite amazed with the detailing. They also spend time with Irrfan, Arjun (Rampal) and Huma (Qureshi). They were involved with the language and looks of the these three. I think, post-Rock On! Arjun has understood the importance of preparing for a role. I had done workshops with Rishi Kapoor for Patiala House and he was really looking forward to them for D-Day as well.
Shooting D-Day in 57 days: I have the best team in the world. When I showed the script to a couple of people initially, someone said it would take 100 days, someone else said 120. I had money only for 65 days. I will never make a film without Tushar Kanti Ray who also shot Shor in the City and Dhobi Ghat. He is the best cameraperson in the world. My crew has given their heart and soul to this film. We got Tom Struthers, who has directed stunts for films like Inception and The Dark Knight. He didn’t start a shoot until Irrfan and Arjun knew how to dismantle and assemble a gun.
Comparisons to Zero Dark Thirty: I know they will, but the film is a lot more than just bringing back the Number One fugitive of India. Where Zero Dark Thirty ends, is where D-Day starts—at the point where the mission ends and the hunters become the hunted. It is a cathartic journey of four individuals who are sent by the Government of India to bring the country’s biggest fugitive to justice and what happens when they suddenly have to fend for themselves.
Going out of his comfort zone: ...but everyone who knows me says I am finally making a film that’s true to me. Before Kal Ho Na Ho happened, I had written an action film for Dharma Productions. They said that it was too real and gritty. Shah Rukh had initially agreed to do my film because it was supposed to be an action film. When we started Kal Ho Na Ho, he would say that I fooled him into doing the same things that Karan (Johar) would make him do. With D-Day, I am finally doing what I love doing.